This past Sunday when my wife dropped off my 4-year-old daughter in the JK/SK class I teach, she gave me one of those your-daughter-has-exciting-news looks. When I asked my daughter what her news was, she ran over and excitedly whispered in my ear, “I made God the leader of my life.”
As a Christian parent, I can’t imagine too many other moments in my children’s lives that could bring me more joy. It brought back memories and emotions from when my oldest son had a similar moment when he was three. Soon after he had expressed a desire to put God in charge of his life I wrote the following article for my church’s newsletter (you can also find it at the Kidology website):
The evening came and went so quickly. It was a moment that I had been praying for and anticipating for just over three years. My three-year-old son prayed, “Jesus, you can come in my heart. Take my naughties away. Help me not to be naughty. Amen.” It was a decision he made by himself without coercion or coaching. In his own three-year-old way he understood his need for God and God’s desire to enter his heart.
Is it possible for a child so young to understand what it means to make Jesus the Lord of his life? Some people will argue that until a child reaches the elementary school ages, she doesn’t have the capacity to become born again. They contend that the concept of repentance and the redemptive work Christ accomplished by dying on the cross is too abstract a concept for little children to understand. Yet, how many adults can adequately explain and understand what was accomplished on the cross?
It has been my experience in children’s ministry that little children can independently make a decision to ask Jesus into their hearts and understand that by doing so Jesus is removing the sin in their lives that separates them from God. A child may not be able to articulate it in that way, but they do understand at their developmental level. Fortunately, I don’t have to base my belief on my experience alone. Jesus tells us that children are more capable of knowing what it takes to enter heaven than adults do. “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3, NIV).
How does a little child reach the conclusion that she needs God in her heart? It is a process. Everyone has to go through a process, initiated by the Holy Spirit, before they come to a decision to allow Christ in their hearts. For little children, though, that process can begin as early as, even before, conception. There are three things that my wife and I have done to help our children understand their need for God: (1) Pray for them; (2) Be intentional in their spiritual training; and (3) put Jesus first in all aspects of their lives.
Prayer is the most powerful tool given to us as parents. “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16b). The wonderful thing about praying for your children is that you don’t have to wait until you have children to begin praying for them. My wife and I began praying for our children soon after we were married. We knew that we would eventually have children and desired that they would some day come to know Christ as their personal Savior. Much of our prayers were centered on equipping us to effectively model and pass on our faith to our children.
Once my wife became pregnant, our prayers became focused on our child. I can remember many evenings placing my hands on my wife’s belly, feeling my son move around, and asking that the Holy Spirit already place a desire within his heart to seek out a relationship with his heavenly Father. As our son has grown, and now a daughter, we have continued to pray for them. We pray that their desire to know God increases with each day.
As soon as our children were born, we realized a need to put our prayers into action and be intentional with their spiritual training. From birth, I’ve sung hymns and choruses to my children. I am constantly reminding them that God loves them, has a plan for their lives, and wants to live in their hearts. The evening before my son asked Jesus into his heart, I asked him, as I did on many nights before, “Who has a plan for your life?” My son answered, “God.” He then asked me a question, “What is God’s plan for my life?” I told him, “Only God knows that. Maybe He’ll tell you while you sleep.” I will always remember the contented smile he had on his face as he nodded and said, “Yup!” The next evening he knew that Jesus wanted to be in his heart and followed through with the first step in God’s plan for his life.
We need to be intentional in the spiritual training of our children by not letting any moment pass to recognize God’s hand. As you admire a beautiful sunset, point out God’s wonderful creativity. As you hold your child tight, let her know that God loves her even more than you do. As you tuck him in for the night, read an age-appropriate Bible story to him and pray with him. Be sure your child is saturated with spiritual instruction at home and at church.
As you pray for your children and intentionally teach them spiritual truths, be sure to put Jesus first in all aspects of their lives. As soon as our son was able to verbally communicate and understand, we began connecting his behavior with how Jesus would react to it. If he misbehaved, it not only made mom and dad sad, it made Jesus sad as well. When he behaved, he knew that Jesus had a big smile on His face because Jesus wants us to obey our moms and dads. When he hears an ambulance siren, he knows that Jesus wants us to pray for the hurt people. On the day he asked Jesus in his heart, my son told my wife, “Jesus wants to come in my heart. He wants to take my naughties.”
If children are taught from a very early age to consider what Jesus would do or how he would feel in certain situations, they will take that with them as they grow older and begin to make moral decisions on their own. “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
Can parents ensure that their children will choose to follow God for the rest of their lives? No. Each person has the free will to choose how they will live their lives. We can, though, lay a foundation that our children will be able to build upon. As parents we must be proactive in steering our children toward God. We live in a fallen world and must safeguard our children while we are able to. Pray for your children. Be intentional in their spiritual training. Put Jesus first in all aspects of their lives. It is never too early (or too late) to start.
I asked my son this morning where Jesus was. He pointed to his chest and said, “He’s in my heart. He’s bigger!” Exactly!
Since writing that article, I’ve had two more children. (Yes, if you are keeping count… that is 4 kids! We’re crazy.) It is my hope and desire for all of my children to realize at a young age that they can follow God and have a friendship with him. From that point on, it becomes my wife’s and my responsibility to help them continue to follow God and grow closer to him and become more aware of him and experience him as they are able to through their different development stages.
A question, though, that needs to be asked is, “Do all children have that cliche-ish ‘salvation moment?'” I don’t think so. Tomorrow, I will post about my oldest daughter’s experience in her realization that she is a part of God’s family.